Physics of Acceleration

Acceleration = (final velocity – initial velocity) / (time at finish – time at start)

Basically, the more you change your speed in a shorter amount of time, the more you have accelerated.  Having a race start that features high acceleration is often a strong deciding factor in races of shorter distance and where the average speed of boats are closely matched.  With the 2017 CDBA Sprint Races just having finished this past weekend, it’s time for teams to start working the long game in prep for more 500m racing fun this summer.

What I wanted to write about regarding acceleration in race starts is to address the wide variation in how teams fiddle with stroke counts and stroke technique in hopes of finding an edge over their competitors.

Many coaches I’ve spoken with over the years often have one of two philosophies about race starts: don’t fix what isn’t broken OR try something different.  The leave-it-be coaches may have strong personal histories of success utilizing a certain race start count and stroke style to the point where the idea of trying something new seems like it would hurt more than help team performance.  That fear is completely understandable, and in certain cases, may be quite accurate.  Think of the novice team trying dragon boat for their first race.  The ‘ole 5-10-10 presents both a great mental and physical challenge with plenty of clacking paddles and drenched partners.  Chances are that coaching different rate ratios and stroke techniques would probably be lost upon such a crew because performance is being limited by base skill.  Now, take the elite paddling crew; each paddler with multiple years of racing experience and a high level of fitness.  If we’re referring to a tight-knit crew with at most 1-2 new additions vs a thrown-together “dream team,” tweaking the start might also be a waste of time because the crew has perfected their start and any change is, again, probably a waste of time.

So why chase new and different race starts at all?  My answer is: because no crew is the same as the next.

Getting back to acceleration, the basic philosophy of a race start is to get from dead stop at the starting line to race pace as quickly as possible.  I’ll ignore “as efficiently as possible” because when it comes to 500m or less, who cares who did it the cleanest if they lost to a team with a “messy” start?  If efficiency was poor in the faster team, it just means that team could have accelerated faster next time.  To me, a winning start is plenty efficient no matter how it looks.  Think of how noisy, messy, and almost out of control a drag race car start is compared to driving around your Prius.  The dragster was efficient at accelerating like a beast while the Prius was efficient at saving fuel and not waking the neighbors.  The dragster wins.  Be the dragster.

But how do you know if a start is giving efficient acceleration?  Well, you could test like I used to with a GPS and stopwatch or utilize buoys of known distance.  Find your team’s sustainable race pace and seek to get to that speed ASAP.  There’s the chance for playing around with ratios and technique.  The goal is to eliminate dead-spots in acceleration on the way to full race pace.  The other goal is NOT to completely overshoot race pace and exhaust the crew before you get past the 100m mark (unless 100m is the race).

On to ratios and technique, faster acceleration demands a greater amount of power.  Power is the rate at which work is done.  Each paddle stroke does some work.  Stroke too long and slowly and power is lost.  Rate up too quickly and shorten the stroke, power is also lost.  The sweet spot for every team lies in the middle somewhere.  Physically stronger, more explosive teams can afford to rate up faster because they can put out more power.  Weaker teams may benefit from an intentionally more gradual workup.

Once the start is over, the time to accelerate is done.  Some teams opt for a high stroke rate during the race because it seems “faster.” (as in people moving their bodies/paddles quickly must be making the boat move faster, right?)  Well, again it depends on how the team can physically maintain their chosen race velocity.  If the team can ONLY generate adequate power to sustain that chosen speed, then sure, thrash away.  Their hearts will probably be running a few extra beats/min higher than a team that is able to maintain the same boat speed but at a lower stroke rate.  If you have a paddling erg, you can see how your heart rate changes if you decrease the paddle resistance and hold a higher stroke rate during a time trial vs a slightly heavier pull but lower stroke rate over the same distance.

Case in point, you can see how DW drops the stroke rate but maintains their boat speed while other adjacent teams maintain high stroke rate without gaining ground:

Compare that to our video from the 2009 Sprint Race where SFL was doing dry starts with rather meek acceleration between strokes 0-2.  I definitely do not think the strongest SFL team of its day could stand up to the crews of today, mostly based on the average physical fitness of modern, A-div teams.

I’m still proud to say that I was able to coach a crew of highly dedicated and passionate paddlers of a wide variety of fitness levels and skill into becoming a consistent contender for A-div podiums over the course of several seasons.  Thanks for the memories, everybody!

Moving forward: Plans for the Bay Area’s new OC1 center

Keep your eyes and minds open to supporting this great opportunity!

Moving forward: Plans for the Bay Area’s new OC1 center.

After all….

Back from the Dead

Back from the brink of complete loss.  

No lights at the end of tunnels.  

Every race being the Last Stand.Image


The Suen Feng Loong (SFL) Dragon Boat Team has returned and it’s time to hit the water for an exciting 2012 paddling season. Start shedding those holiday pounds, get a good workout, and meet some crazy people.

New to the sport? Experience the fun and excitement of the sport first hand as our experienced paddlers and coaches show you how to paddle safely and efficiently.

Already a paddling god? Come realize your paddling potential and value as a team member on a individual-oriented team that emphasizes both performance and fun. Learn what makes our team different than all the rest.

FREE to try. Paddle and PFD (life jacket) provided.

See you on the water!

Apex Paddles Revisited

As a follow up to my earlier post:

Just heard back from Apex Sport about my paddle.  Not only that, but received the reply from Henry Kim, THE President of Apex Sport.  You can read more about him here.  Downside is that my paddle was purchased in 2009 and has exceeded the 1 year manufacturer warranty.  Good news is that Henry puts confidence in the structural integrity of his products alongside the black magic performance ingredients.  He has assured me that if the paddle were at risk of breaking, it would likely have done so by now as gradual cracking/failure is very rare, just like the end of the universe and undoing of all that is (my words, not his).

Therefore, my Apex Accelerator paddle is not one to get old and tired with age but rather to go out with a Big Bang (or should I say snap) if at all.  I’m hoping for the best and if that sad day should come, you should know Apex Sport and Henry are very serious about their customer loyalty…unless it really is the end of the universe, then I probably won’t get the paddle in time despite overnight shipping expenses.  Why does Canada need to be so far away, eh?

Jerseys sooooon

Heard from Christine that our team jerseys have made it through production and are getting ready to be shipped.  Hopefully we’ll receive them within 2 wks and make it to your hands, on your bodies, on the water, to the races!  Woo!

Ready, Get, Dressed

First off, I wanted to thank everybody for being a sport last year when we didn’t have enough team jerseys to go around.  Now that 2011 is here, that’s soon to change!  We’re currently working on our new line of team jerseys and will hopefully have them by May Race if not soon after.

These jerseys will be sublimated which allows the design and ink to be permanently printed into the fabric.  I’ve done the sunscreen, salt water, washer/dryer tests and the samples have all held up perfectly.  Love it or love it more, here’s our new skin for 2011!

2011 a Go-Go!

It’s that time of year folks!  Dust off those paddles and loosen the straps on your PFD to fit your huge muscles built up over off-season.  (yes…you heard me)



Protected: Keeping Up w/ the Joneses: Lessons Learned from TI

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Sprint? Buk Yea!

Looking good SFL Bronson Buk Norris!


Need to jam off the line a bit faster, but awesome top speed and fightin’ midrace!  Let’s go!

The Tortoise and Hare

The eternal struggle between spastic and being deliberate.  I am planning to one day train a paddler to be a hairy turtle or maybe a rabbit with a shell.  That should end this dilemma once and for all!

Witness the Glory

Oh to be unstoppable!  Faster than being on any West Coast men’s boat (sprint distance or otherwise) is this race captured here w/ FCRCC and Dragon Hearts Magnum duking it out for 1st place.  If I ever raced 1:53 in a 500m I could see myself retiring from dragon boat altogether…job’s done…throw in the towel….

Redwood City GPS Profiles

Seeding & Semi-finals

Final B Division

Protected: Updated Race Plan

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Some Blog Feedback

The following was submitted by Alex Ha, our fastest and strongest paddler, and I’d like to share it as it reflects some of our most basic of principles.

I like everything on the blog, especially the emphasis on individual accountability in practice, getting wet before the start, and training before dragonboat season. Personally, I feel that improving your ability as a dragonboat paddler can be done by these two things.

First obviously it depends on how much you practice because practice makes perfect (duh). At practice you can really understand what your body is capable of and when you have a grasp of that, then you have the ability to push your limit.

Conditioning outside of dragonboating is probably the key element to becoming a better dragonboater. We’re all athletes, and as athletes we should treat our bodies with that respect and condition ourselves so we can perform at a higher level.

Of course there’s so many other factors to consider but if we can focus on a few things individually, like making a habit of coming to practice and taking a few days to do maybe 20-30 minutes of exercise outside of dragonboat practice it’ll definitely put us in a better position to surpass our accomplishments of last year.

We definitely need to bring it this year if we intend on building the success we had last year. I would love to add to my lonely Long Beach medal that sits there with no friends.

I know Alex isn’t the only one on the team whose medals sit lonely and neglected.  It’s a serious matter that demands all of our attention and awareness.  I’m begging all of you, please, spend at least 50 hours this season working to bring home as many medal siblings and cousins home to your existing medals.  They all deserve a good home.  Your home.  Thank you.  Make it happen.  No excuses.